Pep Guardiola pays tribute to superb Crystal Palace on bleak day for Manchester City
Andros Townsend exerts his influence on Premier League game as Palace beat City 3-2 at Etihad Stadium
So much for the complaints Manchester City were making football too predictable.
A club who have long had a propensity to deliver the unexpected did so again with an unexpected and untimely outbreak of Cityitis. It was almost two years since Pep Guardiola’s team had lost a league game to anyone outside English football’s six superpowers. They had a 100 per cent record at home.
And so, with complete illogicality, they lost to a Crystal Palace team who had taken one point from a previous 18 on the road and who had not even scored a league goal at the Etihad Stadium since 2005, but who struck three times in 18 minutes.
But if the result felt perverse, it was also deserved.
Palace were terrific. They defended with great determination and counter-attacked at speed. They became just the sixth team to score three times in a league game against Guardiola’s City.
“Today is one of those bonanza days where you get your work rate and positional play in terms of where it should be and you also get the goals,” manager Roy Hodgson said.
Palace’s first strike, courtesy of Jeffrey Schlupp, was excellent. Their second, from Andros Townsend, was exceptional. Luka Milivojevic’s penalty sealed a victory with considerable consequences in a title race Liverpool now lead by four points.
It amounted to a bleak day for City, with the one positive coming from Kevin de Bruyne’s contribution. The Belgian’s belated first league goal of the campaign came with a cross that Vicente Guaita misjudged, but he brought drive and class to the closing stages.
Yet the decision to leave De Bruyne, Sergio Aguero and Riyad Mahrez on the bench came at a cost.
“When you win I am a genius, when you lose I am not good,” Guardiola said. “I don’t know what would happen if Kevin or Sergio start.”
For once, City’s squad players could not compensate.
Admittedly, two combined for their opener. Fabian Delph, perhaps the sixth-choice captain, crossed and an unmarked Ilkay Gundogan headed in. So far, so normal. Yet if some sides may be beaten when they concede to City, Palace rallied in remarkable fashion.
While Palace have not had a single league goal from a specialist striker this season, they have benefited from the clinical touch of a converted full-back. A former left-back now being deployed in midfield, Schlupp arrowed and angled a shot beyond Ederson.
It was the first of two goals where the unfortunate John Stones played an inadvertent part. Deputising for the injured Fernandinho in midfield, the Englishman slid in to tackle James McArthur, only for the ball to fall for Schlupp.
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The unfortunate Stones played a part in Palace’s second in as many minutes, too, as City failed to clear Patrick van Aanholt’s free kick. Townsend is a player who only seems to score great goals and, if many of them have a hint of Arjen Robben about them, this was more like Robin van Persie, another magnificent volleyer of a football.
The winger latched on to Bernardo Silva’s header to dispatch the most glorious of strikes.
“It sat up perfectly for me,” Townsend said. "It's definitely the best goal of my career, against the best side I've ever played."
Elusive and electric, he continued to exert an influence.
“His performance was excellent,” Hodgson said. “He almost scored with his head. That would have been the real icing on the cake.”
When Aaron Wan-Bissaka crossed, Townsend headed against the post, Max Meyer was quickest to react and Kyle Walker chopped him down. Milivojevic has established a reputation as the calmest of spot-kick takers and he beat Ederson from 12 yards.
“Three shots on goal and three goals,” Guardiola lamented. But, as he said: “We cannot concede the penalty we conceded. We have to try and avoid it.”
Leroy Sane then struck the post and De Bruyne scored but the visitors held on.
“I give a lot of credit to Crystal Palace,” Guardiola added. “Defensively they were brilliant.”
Updated: December 22, 2018 10:12 PM